Assessing the Impact of a Landmark Restorative Justice Court

A $130,000 Gift from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

June 18, 2018

The Restorative Justice Community Court offers young adults charged with nonviolent felonies an alternative to incarceration.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Adler University will measure the impact of a groundbreaking community court in a Chicago neighborhood that could become a model for transforming how justice is delivered for young adults throughout the country.

The Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice (IPSSJ) at Adler University received a $130,000 grant to evaluate the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court, which opened in July 2017. The court offers qualifying 18-to-26-year-olds charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors an alternative to incarceration.

“The North Lawndale community has been decimated by the traditional criminal justice system, while restorative justice addresses crime and can strengthen communities,” said Elena Quintana, Ph.D., Executive Director of IPSSJ. “Using restorative justice practices, this court has the potential to reduce incarceration, recidivism, and the accompanying high costs to society. With the McCormick Foundation’s support, we’ll be able to assess the court and share best practices with courts across the country.”

The Restorative Justice Community Court is one of the first of its kind in the country. An official court of record, it represents a collaboration among community-based service providers and the Circuit Court of Cook County.

In the court, young adults take accountability for their actions and work out an agreement with the person harmed and the community that can focus on restitution, community service, and letters of apology. This approach helps reintegrate offenders back into the community by connecting them with individualized services, including mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and education.

“The Restorative Justice Court in North Lawndale is one of the most promising opportunities to break the cycle of incarceration for young people,” said David Hiller, President and CEO of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Adler University to begin evaluating the program and establishing best practices that can be shared and replicated in other Chicagoland communities.”

The evaluation will include quantitative and qualitative assessments of participating adults and a control group comprising those who have been involved in the traditional criminal justice system. Among measured outcomes will be the psychosocial changes that result from restorative justice programming, such as changes in empathy, social support, and relationships.

The McCormick Foundation grant supports the evaluation for one year. IPSSJ staff will work collaboratively with North Lawndale community members and court officials to conduct rigorous research, which could impact criminal justice reform on a national and global scale.